Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Life Lessons in St. Lucia

Long about load number sixteen of the pre-trip laundry piper-paying , I wonder. "Is this going to be worth it?" How much fun will this trip have to be to justify the weeks of sock matching and grocery hauling, necessary to leave 3 children for 8 nights. "A lot" I think. "One hell of a holy lot".

But the moment I round the corner of the MN-5 exit and the Lindberg terminal bursts into view, I am in love. Yes, the obnoxious long lines, the crabby, clueless travelers, the slow, confused, elderly man in front of me in the security line, who stinks of mothballs, garlic and Efferdent, and has to be prompted to remove every single personal item, "And your belt please sir...and your jacket please sir...and your hat please sir...and your phone please sir...and your shoes please sir..." I love them all. Ditto the self-important business man talking into the collar of his expensive shirt, sporting a star trek, blue tooth, headset, and shoving me with his $1400 alligator briefcase as he cuts ahead of me...okay, maybe him I don't love.

But I do adore the delicious anticipation as the seatbelt glides across my lap and I hear that satisfying click. And I always, oddly, feel a trifle self satisfied if I need to cinch it in just a tad - that means I am thinner than the last occupant. I poke the earbuds in my ears and Springsteen wails "Baby We Were Born to Run".

"Yes Bruce. Yes we were."

The plane starts its jerky rumblings down the runway. It relaxes me so much that I often fall asleep just then. While nervous flyers are white-knuckling their armrests and jamming their heels into the floor all around me, I am off in dreamland, head lolling, probably drooling, pleased with my good fortune. But this time, awake, I turn and catch my reflection in the window, and I am changed. I am a woman on a trip. That's what travel does for me.

And this trip was to be better than most. My husband and I were off on a second honeymoon of sorts (though I contend that 3 nights of watching my husband fish in northern Wisconsin does not qualify as a first honeymoon). We were off to St. Lucia - an island deep in the Caribbean West Indies. This island is said to be for lovers - very popular with the honeymoon set. I had heard it offered lots of adventure, diving, sailing, jungle treks and great food.

St. Lucia has a romantic, if violent history. It is called "The Helen of the Caribbean" for its great beauty and desirability. In fact, it is so beautiful that the powerful rulers of France and England each saw fit to allow their soldiers to die in battle over her, not once but seven times. But it was a battle of a different sort in which I would find myself embroiled here. It was a battle of intuition and trust.

On a dive boat we met Stuart, a Canadian man traveling alone. He seemed a rather nice guy - and the fact that he said "a boot" when he meant "about" made me giggle. Perfect traveling companion. He was also interested in finding a private charter sail around the island.

"But" I asked "Aren't there catamarans that do group sails much cheaper?"

"Oh sure" he answered. "They have those eh? - 150 sweaty drunks, jammed elbow to knee on top of each other trying to get to the buffet first. And speakers the size of refrigerators that blast rap music and scare the dolphins halfway to Cuba. Here comes one now. Look at that tall bloke peeing off the starboard. Charming bloke eh? And what's it called? The S.S. Chlamydia?"

But that meant we had to find someone who would do a private charter. To travel like this you need to be either astoundingly rich, or willing to trust people you don't know. I am not rich and so I must trust. "See that fellow over there with the blue toque?" Said Stuart. "That's Robert. He's supposed to be the one to hook us up". I saw that he was referring to a very shaggy looking island boy, whose dreads were gathered up in a blue stocking cap. "Oh dear" said mid-western sensibilities.

Robert met us on the beach under a palm tree. "You like-a my office mon?" He smiled gesturing toward the sand. "Friends are callin' me Doctor Feel-Good." Now either he was a licensed Doctor of mind-body holistic medicine, practicing on the beach for the connection it offers to the earth, or he was a drug dealer. Everyone knew Robert, greeted him by name, and he assured us that he would be able to hook us up with anything we wanted.

"Well Robert, we want a sailboat, a nice one. And a captain, also nice, to sail around the island tomorrow. What would that cost?" Stuart asked.

"You are my friends, and for you - good deal" Robert replied. We agreed on a price and made plans to meet the next morning.

That night I awoke with worrying dreams. What did I really know about this guy? Sure he had water-taxied Stuart around for a few nights - had looked after him at the local festival, but what was I doing? Was I being naïve, irresponsible? Or was this feeling of uncertainty a racist response to a person who looked different than me? In the creaky, rusty hours of the night, my paranoid fantasies had me believing horrible things about this young man, and alternately about myself.

The next day was cloudy and rainy - an ominous sign if you believe in such things. Robert and his pal Frederic arrived right on time to pick us up in the water taxi. Robert assured us that the weather at the south end of the island would be better. I looked at him with uncertainty on my face as he held out his hand to help me into the boat. "Do you trust me?" He asked. And at that moment, for better or worse, I did.

This story ends well, with a beautiful day of sailing, another glimpse of the S.S. Chlamydia as it passed to our port side, with too much noise and too many people, confirming the wisdom of our decision. But it also ends with a lesson in trust - a lesson for both Dr. Feel Good and me.

We had just started our sail - beautiful weather, beautiful boat, when I realized that my formerly predictable feminine cycle was betraying me, and arriving a full two weeks early. I had nothing in the way of feminine products. NOTHING. There was nothing on the boat, and we had sailed out of the only populated area for miles We were hours from anything but a tiny village with no stores. But I could see women there on the beach and I know where there were women there are feminine products.

I had my husband ask the captain to find a mooring here, and ferry us into the beach for a little while. The captain said that while we could moor here there was no reason to go to the beach. "There is nothing here to do. No snorkeling, no restaurant, no stores. I have a much better place up ahead in one or two hours."

But my husband insisted. Suspiciously the captain moored the boat and ferried us in the dingy. We walked the beach for awhile trying not to look so conspicuous. I went from one group of women to another asking for a "favor". Finally a very bohemian-looking young woman nodded. She had the "stuff" I needed, and we ducked behind a palm tree to make the exchange. She didn't want to take money, but I insisted knowing that supplies like these, in places like this are neither inexpensive nor easy to come by. She had saved me.

My husband told the captain that we were ready to go back to the boat. I noticed a distinct chill coming from both Robert and the Captain. I wondered if they were embarrassed to have to deal so blatantly with a woman's issue and I began to get indignant. I was ready to show these men a little American Feminism.

I asked, "Is there some problem?"

"Yes" Robert said. "That stuff is not legal here on the island and is not legal on the boat. The captain is afraid he will have big trouble from this and be fired from his job."

"What is not legal?" I asked incredulous.

"What you bought from that girl" Robert said.

"You mean these?" I replied and opened my hand to reveal half a dozen tampons.

Robert's eyes grew wide. He covered his face with both hands and doubled over with laughter and embarrassment "No," he said "No, not that."

In the end both Robert and I learned a little something about trust, about making assumptions, and about what all women really want at one time or another. Who knows, maybe Dr. Feel-Good carries them himself now.

Word Count 1528

Julene Nolan


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